Exam topics: mini-dissertation in human-computer interaction 2013

As in 2012, I’m sharing the topics my students created for a hypothetical proposal. In this proposal, students demonstrate their understanding of the research process — how to formulate a problem statement, how to review the relevant literature, how to choose a methodology… and, of course, how to write well.

Popular topics this year included gamification, input methods and digital publishing. If you’re interested in connecting with one of these students based on their proposal, contact me.

Smartlove: Is it possible to mediate intimacy in long distance relationships through the use of smartphone technology?

Abstract: Intimacy it is the key to a successful relationships and plays a role in creating and maintaining the lasting bonds that people many share. It arises from various interactions people share such as awareness of presence, the expression of emotions, physical interaction, sharing joint action, the giving of gifts and the creation of memories (Hassenzahl, et al., 2012). Before the rise of technology people were only able to experience these intimate interactions by being physically in the presence of their significant other or through much less immediate actions such as the sending of love letters. The invention of the telephone created a much more direct line for expressing one’s emotions, yet many of the other intimate actions were still void in the realm of a phone call.

With the rise of the internet and  researchers have shifted their focus to try understand how people are using more advanced technology to mediate these intimate actions and discovering how to enhance and create new methods using the technology available to further allow for intimate interaction to take place from a distance via technology.

This research investigates previous attempts to use technology to mediate intimacy and attempts to discover how they can be applied in the context of smartphone technology. It also attempts to discover new methods of achieving intimacy through the unique capabilities and possible interactions available with the smartphones of today. Finally we present a prototype application which draws from previous research as well as the insights gained from our own user tests as a proof of concept which is able to convey various intimate acts and increase the number of intimate interactions possible through the use of smartphone technology.

The ideal keyboard for speed typing: finding out what the best combination of physical key characteristics is for the ideal QWERTY keyboard

Abstract: Keyboard designs are getting smaller in favour of becoming more portable. Some of the changes that it has undergone recently are keytop sizes getting smaller, key travel distances getting shorter, no more auditory feedback, no curve on the surface of the keys, and low profile designs. The purpose of this study is to find out if these characteristics are beneficial for typing efficiency, how they can be improved, and what characteristics have a negative effect on typing performance (speed and accuracy).

The methodology that will be used is a focus group that is tested with different types of keyboards as well as a user preference questionnaire. Participants will each be given 7-minute typing tasks for each of the keyboards that will be tested. Their speed, accuracy and common errors can be monitored and quantified. The results that is expected from this study is that the smaller sizes of keyboards have a negative effect on typing performance, and that old-fashioned mechanical keyboards are better for typing performance.

An evaluation method framework for Teen Computer Interaction

Abstract: Teenagers seem to be neglected within the field of human computer interaction, stuck in the gap between the field of child computer interaction and typical human computer interaction, which focuses on adult users. This research proposal presents my plan for creating an evaluation method framework for teenagers. The aim of this research is to determine which evaluation methods of each, child computer interaction and human computer interaction, are applicable to teenager computer interaction and can be combined to formulate a new evaluation framework targeted specifically on teenagers, whereas child computer interaction is currently focused on younger children.

Upon completion, the framework will be put to the test by performing usability testing against existing methods in the child computer interaction and human computer interaction fields. I hope the results show that an evaluation framework designed specifically for teenagers is more successful and appropriate than using methods focused on either younger children or adults.

“Look Ma, no HUD!”. The role of minimalistic interfaces in creating an “invisible interface” for optimal video game experience

Abstract: This proposal discusses the need for a paper that examines the creation and sustainability of so-called “invisible interfaces” in video games through the use of minimalistic interfaces, specifically in story-driven games. These story driven games are further examined as either “traditional” or “interactive cinema” games. Conclusions seek then to be drawn on how each type causes the manifestation of the invisible interface in order to better understand both how traditional and interactive cinema games remediate from each other, as well as how invisible interfaces can be better implemented in games of all types and genres as a result.

Being in the Game: Evaluating the Influence of Narrative on Immersive Gameplay

Abstract: This is a research proposal for evaluating the influence of narrative on immersive gameplay. We discuss the importance of immersion in Video Games and how this can be influenced by narrative. We propose a qualitative research where players will be asked to play three games, during which we will track eye movement to measure attention during gameplay, where after the player will be interviewed to determine their perceived level of immersion as well as their thoughts on the game narrative during their play session. The purpose of this research is to get more insight into narrative influence on immersion. This is important to both the young domain of Video Game HCI and also to provide game designers with a clearer understanding of narrative influence in order to improve immersive game design.

Gamification of the workplace: Using game elements to boost productivity

Abstract: Many office environments require of employees to produce discrete units of work at a high rate. Repetitive work can be demoralizing and reduce productivity because of demotivation. This is a problem because the success of a business is dependent on the productivity of its employees. A progress tracking and achievement system is proposed to increase productivity of employees by inducing a competitive atmosphere in an office environment.

The proposed system allows users to compare productivity amongst one another and view achievements unlocked by individual employees. Some design aspects of such a system is investigated. An experiment approach is suggested whereby the productivity of employees is measured before the introduction of the system into the workplace to establish a baseline for comparison. Productivity is measured after the introduction of the system into the workplace and evaluated against baseline productivity.

Strategies for increasing user engagement in operation control rooms

Abstract: The question of control room operator engagement has been a subject of worry in the field of operator control room ergonomics, and although the displays have been optimised (Koffskey, et al 2013), and the control rooms automated to minimize human error (Larson, 2012), not much attention has been given to increase operator engagement in their vigilant activities.

This paper intends to focus on increasing operator engagement in control rooms by exploiting a well known engagement technique (Zichermann and Cunningham, 2011) gamification. I will be conducting a quasi-experiment using the interrupted time series design in order to evaluate operator response times to real and simulated emergencies over a period of 6 months. By juxtaposing their reaction times both before the use of the gamified system and after, I will be able to prove that the use of a gamified system has increased their response times, and therefore be able to deduce if increased engagement increased overall safety on the plant.

In conclusion, this paper intends to shed light on how to increase operator engagement in their vigilance tasks, and in so doing decrease the amount of tragic events that occur due to operator irresponsiveness.

Evaluating the use of Social Media by the South African Government

Abstract: Social media is playing an increasingly important role in society. Many organisations including governments have started to notice this importance and increased their social media presence. This study aims to evaluate the efforts made by the South African government in terms of social media. A literature study will provide background on social media, as a whole, in other governments and in the South African government.

Qualitative data will be gathered from interviews with a sample of the population selected, using the stratified sampling method. Quantitative data will be gathered using questionnaires sent out to the various government departments to gain knowledge about their social media efforts. Finally a usability test in the form of a case study  will be done on a government social media account.

The research is conducted under the hypothesis that the South African government does not have a strong enough social media presence and will aim to prove that hypothesis.

An Empirical Investigation of Learner-to-Learner Interaction for The Support of Virtual Interaction in Promoting Learning

Abstract: As the industry applies greater pressures on higher education institutions to deliver quality and generic graduates, the various institutions employ instructional strategies to make this possible [13]. Included in these strategies are e-learning environments which attempt to actively involve the learners in their own learning process [5, 7]. In an e-learning environment, actively involving the learner is key to meeting the objectives of an online course [9]. A subset of the e-learning environment is virtual interaction, which attempts to simulate the learner-instructor interaction [4].

The proposed study research will build on previous research, ranging from learning theories to applications of learning strategies. The proposed topic builds specifically on research by Cao et al. [4]. Additionally to replicating the study by Cao et al., social mechanisms are added to the prototype proposed by Cao et al. [4]. These social mechanisms have the purpose to enhance the interaction satisfaction of a virtual interaction environment, whilst not interfering with a learner’s learning performance.

The research will be field based by exposing the virtual interaction environment to students during two lectures. A control group, representing the students that need to endure the traditional classroom face-to-face lectures, is also participating. The type of knowledge that will be taught in the two lectures will be different. Quantitative data will be gathered throughout the lectures, pretests and posttests. Furthermore, qualitative data will be collected by utilising the system logs and audit trails of learner activities within the virtual interaction environment and by video recording the control group’s activities during the lectures.

Quantitative analysis techniques, like the repeated measures analysis [20], ANCOVA [2], MANOVA [16], etc. will be used to investigate the quantitative data. The qualitative data will be processed by the authors by viewing them and determining patterns using qualitative techniques.

Proposal for Using a Stylus as a Tool with Mobile Tablets to Improve Copy-Editing as a Separate task from Content Creation

Abstract: The process of creating content, printing it for review/editing/marking and then retrieving it for feedback analysis can be laborious and time wasting. One of the reasons it is still done today, even with the available collaborative and distributed software, is because of personal preference. 

A proposal is created to investigate an alternative using tablet computers and stylus pens that could mimic the natural writing process and potentially satisfy the personal preference of the copy-editor, whilst adding the functionality and convenience of software based editing. The proposal includes currently available software, and guidelines for creating an application that would facilitate the experiment. Suggestions on how to elicit results are also made, noting issues.

A Research Proposal for Evaluating the Accessibility of the EPUB 3.0 standard for the Visually Impaired

Abstract: The purpose of this research is to evaluate the accessibility provided by the EPUB 3 format for the visually impaired. The EPUB 3 standard is a widely published eBook format supported by multiple devices and therefore is a necessary standard to evaluate in terms of usability for the visually impaired. Various sources cited within this research claims the EPUB 3 standard allows and promotes use by blind users, thus it is sensible to evaluate its accessibly support. Sources contained in this research proposal claim the accessibility of EPUB, but very little research has been done to evaluate the actual usability of an eBook utilizing the accessibility guidelines that the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) state in the EPUB 3 standard.

This research is specifically aimed at evaluating the usability for the visually impaired. This research aims to evaluate the EPUB 3 standard’s accessibility guidelines to determine how accessible the format is to the blind. The study does not investigate device functionality, but the accessibility potential of the standard. This research aims to conduct a case study consisting of two parts investigating the EPUB 3 standard and the accessibility the standard provides to blind users. The first part of the case study involves visually impaired users being observed using an EPUB 3 publication created according to the standard.

The second section involves a focus group with the participating users in order to discover frustrations they experienced and requirements they have from an eBook. The research proposed in this paper can lead to valuable discoveries which can be used in future accessibility development of the EPUB standard. Results obtained can be utilised to reflect the needs of blind users in future versions of the EPUB format.

Cloud testing quality – success factors and metrics. A User experience centered study on the success factors and metrics for cloud testing quality

Abstract: Cloud Services is becoming an increasing choice for the growing resources- and computational needs of the software industry. One of these services, called Cloud Testing, offers testing capabilities and resources on a large scale to (mostly) Web-based solutions and mobile applications.

A potential research opportunity exists for the assurance of quality and user experience in online software testing – a common enough outcome of any software testing. This paper serves as a proposal to research and understand possible Success Factors and metrics for quality of online testing. A Grounded Theory approach together with a user-experience experiment will serve as the main methodology for this research.


Opensim Practical Project 2013 – Screenshots

Another year of OpenSim projects is upon us! Students are increasingly using third-party tools to create models in their projects. I heard mention of SketchUp, Blender and 3D Studio Max once again.

1. The Kingdom of Lancre, by isabelvanrooyen

I created Lancre, a fictional kingdom situated on the Disc World, created by sir Terry Pratchett. Lancre is a small kingdom, population 500, with the current king being the former jester. It is also famous for witches, especially since a certain witch published an erotic cookbook “The Joye of Snackes”. Lancre has a currency (the Lancre penny) but it is never used, since it is too heavy (weighing an ounce each) and everybody can pretty much remember who owes who what. The world includes interactions like riding a broom and casting a spell. Granny Weatherwax is my favorite character, so her house received the most attention.

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2. Welcome to Beaver Creek!, by 8morne

Beaver Creek is a Tropical Island inhabited by miners and their wives. Gold was discovered here by explorers a few years back and since then many prospectors have come here to stake their claim. Made up of Americans mostly, a sort of cowboy culture have emerged. A saloon, hotel and bank was built a few months ago to cater for the growing number of residents.  Butch Cassidy is the Island Villian. He and his gang lives in tents in one of the surrounding Islands. They raid the town frequently but recently we have built cannons and alarm bells to try and keep them out. On one of the other Islands live Old John. He is the island’s main lumberjack. His son lives just behind the houses and has the same profession. The three sisters run most of the services on the island. If you need anything just speak to one of us!

Snapshot_002 Snapshot_004

3. Zoraï habitation, by cybercon

My sim was inspired by the tall, blue, theocratic, leaf-haired race called the Zoraï from Ryzom (a MMORPG), so the overarching architectural theme is one of geometry meets amber meets magnetism, e.g. floating roofs with amber inlays and glowing pillars of amber. Zoraï are quite the mystical race and live in the jungles of the Witherings, which I tried to adequately bring forward through the use of greenery and ambient sound. The sim is more exploration based and you can learn more about the Zoraï and their ways at various points. All my models (except trees) were created for the sim, with large buildings created in Blender and smaller objects in OpenSim itself, almost all textures and media are from Ryzom’s open source repository.

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4. Human Sanctuary 1731, by MumbaN

The virtual environment is a depiction of a fictional post-apocalyptic human settlement called Human Sanctuary 1731 (HS1731). It is a  post-apocalyptic biome which human beings created to survive after Earth became uninhabitable. The structure floats above the surface  The settlement has four sections: Nature Block, Habitation Control, Living and Annex. There are some  attempt at preserving the natural environment of earth which can be seen in  the natural forest section of the HS1731. We find the settlement in crisis as it appears to be last settlement and its resources are getting depleted and tenants are slowly getting ill.

Inworld_006 Inworld_002

5. Kanto, by Jerretta

Kanto is the world explored by players of the original Pokemon games, Red and Blue. This environment seeks to recreate four key areas of Kanto from the Pokemon games, brought “up-to-date” by making them 3D. These locations are Pallet Town, Cinnabar Island, Celadon City and the Indigo Plateau. The world’s purpose was largely to inspire nostalgia for players of the early game, and as a proof-of-concept to see how the world would feel fully rendered in 3D, as the region of Kalos is done in the series’ latest entries, Pokemon X and Pokemon Y. This world is old-meets-new, but some things never change, like starter Pokemon, Snorlaxes, trees that need cutting and, of course, the desire to catch ’em all.
Plateau Overview 1

6. Flipside, by E1EY

An upside down world based around the concepts of symmetry and exploration. This world has four different regions with four different themes and feels. Each world has a quest, in which the user can find hidden secrets to unlock the trapped treasures. SpinnerZ is based around a carnival theme and the concept of circles, while SkyzUp is based around a beach type theme where the sky is water. GravitE has got more of a medieval theme, which involves an upside down castle. And the last region Fall Line plays on symmetry and mirrors, where they world is reflected in the sky on the ground.

FlipSide1 FlipSide2

7. Origami Nation, by Hvdmerwe

Origami Nation is a world made out of a single pack of coloured paper. There are seven different colours of these and most creations travel in sets of at least one of each colour.  Other objects are textures with a repeating triangle pattern containing those same colours. All objects are comprised of repeating angular shapes, each being folded from a single sheet of paper. It is thus a world of repeating patters that create a type of fractal, psychedelic order and symmetry. My creations include planes, boats, houses, furniture, a sports arena, several plans and animals, as well as a large temple.

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8. The Lorax, by Minkinke

The world of the Lorax: Explore Thneedville, discover the exit to the world outside, experience the dead forest, visit the Once-ler’s home, meet the Lorax and plant a tree to let the forest grow.

Lorax_b Lorax_a

9. The Wood Isle Golf Resort, by Gburger

The Wood Isle Golf Resort is the perfect family vacation destination. Let us welcome you to our beautiful clubhouse, complete with two working clocks and a view of our own lighthouse. Come practice your golf swing on our state of the art driving range, or if you prefer a more peaceful vacation, enjoy the stunning view of the ocean from our wooden deck. Just stay away from the forgotten forest…

Capture2 Capture0

10. Tropical Lair for Sale, by Sinkwa

You can’t be a respectable super villain in today’s day and age without a tropical island hideaway and a stockpile of missiles. If you are an aspiring megalomaniac, this piece of real estate is perfect for you! A measly 50 million USD gets you an observatory, launchpad, biological agent storage facility, lighthouse, helipad and a command centre with wall-to-wall heads up display.  Conveniently situated off the coast of a major super power, this fixer-upper could be the perfect base of operations for your next devious scheme. The previous owner’s estate is looking for purchasers who possess an evil maniacal cackle. Only serious offers will be considered. Payment to be made via Swiss bank account.

Missile Base 2 Missile Base 1

11. Triple Town, by belbell

A recreation of part of the Triple Town game. From the game creator’s site: Triple Town is an original puzzle game in which you try to grow a great city! The larger the city you build, the more points you score. You build your city by matching three or more game-pieces: combine three grasses to make a bush, three bushes to make a tree… until you’ve filled the board with houses, cathedrals and castles. Along the way, you’ll have to outwit giant bears who will try to block your progress.

Screenshot_1 Screenshot_3

Have a look at 2011’s group and at 2012’s group, too. If you’re interested in contacting any of these students, let me know.

Semester 1, 2013: Wikipedians, e-production and timetable schedulers

Human-computer interaction

Students still have problems with the requirements part of the project. That is, about a third of the groups still want to make a timetable scheduler or an interactive campus map. I think that I should give them a selection of project choices in future. Limiting the scope of the project helped in postgrad HCI, so it will help here too.

Digital publishing

There are still students that don’t know how to denote HTML entities! I think it’s time to introduce extra, tutor-lead tutorials  — specifically for theme three (markup languages). Tutors can decide on the topic, but the focus will be on technical skills.

The course web site / textbook remains useful (thanks, PressBooks). It’s indexed by Google now, so looking up a reference in the textbook can be as simple as an in-site Google search (like this one, which points out the terribly inconsistent spelling of the word “ebook” throughout — yikes!).

Hypermedia and markup languages 

This year I had students improve a Wikipedia article of their choice. Wikipedia is a fantastic, living example of a complex hypermedia system, and getting my class to improve the behemoth ever so slightly makes the world a better place. Having students present on topics from Hypertext 2012 worked… to some extent. Some articles were too complicated to explain in a presentation format.

Wikipedia Improvement Initiative 2013


As part of their subject in hypermedia and markup languages, students chose a Wikipedia article as a pet project. The overall idea was to improve Wikipedia (for instance, expanding on stubs) or to create an article from scratch. As editors, they were responsible for improving the quality (reliability/readability/usability) of their chosen article.

Since their project pages will likely change over time, I won’t link to the actual articles (though they should be easy to find). Instead, here are some quotes from their reflections on being a Wikipedian and on Wikipedia as a system (emphasis mine).

1. On becoming Wikipedia editors

I learned that as an editor you must be careful not to infringe copyright. It is important for an editor to keep by the rules of Wikipedia in order to maintain the integrity of Wikipedia. One of the first things I learned (the hard way) about creating pages is that Wikipedia is NOT the place to write about commercial topics (i.e. advertisements). I also learned that other Wikipedians will criticize, change and possibly delete your work if it does not conform to Wikipedia standards.

Being a Wikipedia editor is hard. As strange and broad a statement that is to make, it’s the truth. Around the end of April, when The Pop Underground was being released, I remember rushing to source all the things I needed to add to my article just to make sure I was the first editor to put up the new information. There is also always a balance between giving all the information possible on a topic and making it condense and concise.

Sad to say however I learned that it is not easy to expand “stubs”, as sometimes there is just not enough information about the subject available, or information about a topic is not easy to find, or worse yet that there is so much disambiguation, that you end up finding a lot of information about things that are not relevant to your article topic.

A feature that I enjoyed as an editor was how easy it is to use templates. One on the templates I used was the feedback template ([[Category:Article Feedback 5 Additional Articles]]) that allows users to give feedback to Wikipedia articles. It is very easy to add references since Wikipedia has built in tools that allows you to fill in a form with the relevant information necessary to create a citation automatically.

I was lucky enough in my article to not experience any editing wars. I think this is something that should be avoided but it is not always possible. If two authors reason differently about the same set of facts, there is no proven way to determine who is right.

Citation is very important, and understandably so, I struggled sometimes to keep myself from making unsupported statements. It is important to carefully consider your changes, someone else worked hard on the article that you’re editing, and approaching it with this understanding makes you more likely to make more helpful changes, and act with sensitivity when writing update summaries, and deleting paragraphs. This sensitivity is essential in my opinion for the community to stay collaborative, if people keep treating each other with respect, the community as a whole will benefit.

During my discourse with the school I learned that they believe that the creator of an article is the owner of that article and is responsible for the maintenance of the article. I had to explain to them that it is an open platform for anyone to create and alter pages and that there is no one owner. As a Wikipedia editor, I think it is important to educate the general public where we can about the nature and goals of Wikipedia. I learned that the Wikipedia community is very helpful and passionate about the quality of articles. Community members made multiple small edits to improve the quality of the article.

I learned that being a Wikipedia editor, a great sense of responsibility and purpose is placed upon the editor. Being a completely open platform, driven only by users, a contributor always has some sense of attachment to work done. It may be emotional, educational, expressive or even just the sense of purpose to contribute knowledge. The attachment to a certain object or subject drives the community to aim to contribute meaningful information. This has lead to most editors using personal time to contribute to something they regards as important or valuable to a greater community, and causing others then to contribute in the same manner. This to me is a wonderful phenomenon, resulting in more than just an encyclopedia , but a community within the system, being users themselves, and the work they contribute.
At first I was a little intimidated by the idea of creating a wiki article, but once I got started I realized that it doesn’t have to feel intimidating at all. I learned that as a Wikipedia editor there was a lot of help and support to help a new editor to do their thing. I did, however, also learn that it is important to write about subjects you are familiar with, especially if you are starting out. But with enough research I could even write an article about “Native American Weaponry”. I also learned that I still have a lot to learn.
I found it very easy to learn how to use the Wikipedia editor and especially to create inter-wiki links. Templates impressed me as I was never aware of them as a Wikipedia user. I was also very impressed with how many resources there are on Wikipedia to help you get started, learn the policies and help you become a successful Wikipedia editor. I was not aware of the Wikipedia Commons where all the media objects are stored and found it very accessible to add existing images into your article with automated “add this image” buttons.
Being a Wikipedia editor is more than just knowing what you are talking about. You need to make sure that you do not make any mistakes when altering someone else’s work. Some editors are vastly competitive, and seem to take ownership of an article very seriously.

I edited an article about gardens in Nepal where I tried to add more links and changed some text; there was also more work that needed to be done with the article like adding citations. The article was originally written appallingly with a lot of ambiguity and bias. My edit attempted to eliminate the bias and I believe I successfully eliminated ambiguity. However, the edit was not accepted. The lesson learned here was that the editor is not always right and in my case almost never.

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Hypertext fiction short stories 2013


Remember Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books? This year, I got my students to create their own: a short story with multiple story arcs and multiple endings (a.k.a., hypertext fiction). In doing this assignment, students practised their nascent writing skills as well as their web development skills.

I hope to take this assignment further in my upcoming subject on advanced e-publishing by getting a student to prepare some of these stories as a .epub ebook.

So… here are this year’s stories! I’ve pasted (in order):

  1. The first node (or introduction) of the short story
  2. An example of the choices the reader can make, and finally
  3. One of the short story’s possible endings.

Story sections are separated by ellipses ().

Warning: May contain violence and coarse language — like many other stories do (including Hansel and Gretel, for that matter). Also, the hyperlinks don’t actually work, since I’m not hosting these stories online. I kept the links to show how students made their stories interactive.

If you’re interested in contacting one of the students, let me know.

1. John Williams

“Work brakes, work!” He felt the brake pedal moving beneath his feet but the car wasn’t stopping. He knew something was wrong when he saw the black Range Rover behind him this morning. Suddenly the decision to take on one of the biggest criminal organizations in the country alone did not seem so smart.

120km/h normally feels slow in his BMW M3, but at this moment, speeding down a pass heading who knows where, he’s scared beyond belief. A bump in the road beneath him ripped him from his thought. He will need to make a decision, and soon too. The cliff on his right is a vertical drop of about 30 meters, a certain death. On his right side the cliff makes a vertical wall, hitting it at this speed will be fatal as well.

In the distance he can see a dam, will it be possible to attempt a typical Hollywood stunt and go off the side of the cliff hopefully hitting the dam? There is also a small patch of grass approaching, a gap in the cliff on his right. He calculates the gap at about 9 meters, he will certainly get hurt but may just make it.

The gap is fast approaching, about 100 meters away, it should take 5 seconds to reach it. He makes the decision – and he [jumps]/[stays].


“John Williams, you are not a killer. But this is survival.” The last words he hears himself thinking before he heads back to the cellar. He exist the door and runs towards a nearby bush. His second pursuer is crouched behind a bin with his back towards John. He lifts the rifle and walks towards the man. “Put your weapon down so we can talk”.

The man spins around and lift his pistol, John realises this and take his shot. His attacker falls to the ground, blood already staining his shirt. John feels heat creeping down his body, he looks down and see that he has been shot. He feels a sharp pain in his chest and feels for the source of the blood. His legs give in under him, and he falls towards the ground. John feels him self drifting in and out of consciousness. “John Williams, you are…”

The end

2. The Hiking Trip

“Turn around! I’m telling you, we missed the exit.” Shaun tries to convince Warren. Amy wakes up from all the boys’ arguing but she keeps her eyes closed while she listens to hear what the argument is about. She sighs silently as Shaun carries on nagging Warren, and starts dozing off again in the backseat. It is only when her head bumps against the car door that she realises they’re on a gravel road. This time she sits up straight and sees Warren’s face light up when the Magaliesberg hiking route sign finally appears around the corner. “I told you I know where I’m going.” Warren says smugly to Shaun, who uncomfortably organises the printouts of directions on his lap. “Wakey wakey Amy!” Warren chants cheerfully to the back of the car as he switches off the engine.

“Which route should we take, George’s Gorge or Peter’s Peak?” Amy instantly realises she’s just stirred without meaning to. Warren entertainingly points to the sky, “to the peak we’ll climb!” Shaun speaks again for the first time since Warren gave him the I told you so. “George’s Gorge sounds more adventurous to me, not that anyone listens to me anyway” Shaun looks at Warren accusingly, and then Warren quickly turns to Amy, “Which one do you want to take, Amy?” Both the boys are not even blinking as they stare at her, waiting for her response. She doesn’t know what to do. Which route should Amy choose?
George’s Gorge or Peter’s Peak


“You have a point Warren, it does sound like a story someone would make up as a prank. We’ll camp here tonight and then head back tomorrow morning.” Shaun says and looks to Amy for approval. “Yeah, okay, I guess you two are right. We cannot leave our car here in any way.” Answers Amy. The sun begins to set while the helicopter takes off. They watch it fly off, becoming smaller and smaller. Just as the tiny dot finally disappears into the orange sky they hear gunshot and men screaming and look at each other in terror.

3. The Temple of Tiers

Bashier Kulgan sat astride his mobile palace, drifting through the sands of a never ending desert at glacial speeds. It was built atop the back of a creature akin to a tortoise, but with marked characteristics of a camel as well. He had been searching for the boy for a long time, but Bashier did not mind. Time was all that he had left. All else had been lost to him, lost so long ago.


As he approached the temple a door suddenly materialised where no opening had been before. Bashier hesitated for a moment, then resolutely walked through it. The light faded around him as he cleared the threshold. Looking behind he saw that the door had disappeared behind him. There would be no going back the way he came.


As you step through the door, a blinding pain shoots through your head. You hear a cracking sound, and realise it was your skull. Disoriented, you fall to the ground. A gigantic ogre brandishing a club falls on top of you. The last words you hear before the creature tears out your throat are “Mogg eat good tonight!”

4. Road to the Final

Alan: Here it is the semi-final of the FA Cup. This match has been talked up for weeks, and finally we are here to witness two teams go head to head in hopes of booking their place in the final. I am Alan Grey and welcome to all our viewers at home. My biggest welcome tonight goes to Martin Tyler, joining me in the commentary box.

Martin: The Three Rivers captain is just outside the box with the ball. His winger is making a run towards goal.
Martin: The striker scores the penalty! Duncanville has done it! They will have the oppertunity t defend their title the final. The have overcome the underdogs Three Rivers FC.
Alan: The red card booking definitely played a role in this match, giving Duncanville the edge.
Martin: Alright Alan, see you next week same time, same place for the final in the FA Cup.
Alan: Thanks Martin, till then, cheers, and a good night to our viewers at home.

7. Name Game

“Awaken unconscious soul”, a distorted voice says. And with that a young man wakes up. He observes his surroundings only to find that he is in a small blue room that is clustered with broken computers and lab equipment. “What is this place… and who am I?” he utters under his breath as he dizzily looks down towards his hands.

In the distance he sees an open door that has been partially blocked by a couple of big white boxes. As he stares at the door he feels a cold chain around his neck and notices that he is wearing a chain, with a key and a tag hanging from it. The tag has the word “Emanon” written on it, “Em-A-Non, could this… be my name?” he utters wearily.

Emanon types in “You are the key no trust body”, unlocking the door, and revealing a brilliant light, which causes him to shield his eyes from the light with his hands. Once the light fades, Emanon finds himself in a familiar setting; a yellow room with rock band and soccer player posters on the walls and a computer on a work desk.

“Is this my bedroom?” Emanon asks himself as he scans around the room. He then hears a female’s voice say, “Hey, dude. What happened?”

Looking at his computer screen Emanon sees a game screen that displays the words “CONGRATULATIONS YOU WIN EMANON!!”

Upon further investigation he realises that he is currently online with Vi and Psypher, playing a multiplayer online game named Name Game.

“Could it be? Was it all really a game?” Emanon asks himself.

“Ah man, you won again.” A deep male voice says, as Emanon stares at his screen and realises that “Vi” and “Psypher” are two people talking to him. “Emanon” glares at the screen as a smile creeps up on his face.

“Hey guys want to play again?”

The End

8. Dangerous Times

Detective Roberts was running, as fast as her legs would go. She had just seen the man in front of her kill two police officers with violin strings. It was brutal. And she had to catch him. But she was getting so tired, her coat tails flipping in the wind, and then she felt the street under her boots, she knows London well. Very well. She knows that there is an alley to her left, and she knew in its darkness were the same thugs she arrested yesterday. She knew they posed no danger, they were the ones who told her where to find this mad man. They were scared of him. They wanted her to take care of him.

She could just shoot him. That would be easy. Everyone knows that’s what he deserves. But she couldn’t, it had to be done right. Proper. If she didn’t, if she just shot him, she would become a little more like him. That’s how it starts, she believed that. She had seen it. You take care of one, and before you know it you’re killing police officers with violin strings. Well, maybe not violin strings. The man in front of her turned sharply to the right. She knew if she kept going straight, she could cut him off. But if she takes her eyes off him, then he could kill and she wouldn’t be there. Just like she wasn’t there before. When he killed her back up.

Keep going straight or Keep him in sight


She slowly got off the cart, and started walking towards the back to open the cart for the agents. Just then, she remembered the voice clearly. It was Baptiste! Alarm bells started going off in her head, at that moment she saw him on the other side of the cart, getting closer to her younger self. Smiling.She knew what would happen next. She tried to stop him, she lunged forward, cried her name, but he stabbed her younger self, right before her eyes. The girl yelled in pain and surprise. He giggled as he watched her disappear into non-existence.

The end.

9. The Most Beautiful Dog in the World

At the parlour, Lady is chewing on a delicious bone that was given to her by Stephanie, the doggie parlour owner.

It is time for Lady’s bath.

Is Lady obedient, or is she a naughty dog?


As soon as Stephanie comes back to the parlour, she sees that Katherine, Lady’s owner is already there, with Lady in her arms.

Katherine is angry. Lady is dirty and was found in the street. She does not believe Stephanie when she tells her that Lady is a very naughty dog. Katherine will not be paying Stephanie.

The end.

10. The Hunter and the Deer

Once upon a time in a forest far away a hunter was stalking a deer. He had it in cross hairs but couldn’t seem to take the shot. You see, this hunter was a bit of softy and tended to sympathise with his prey. Every time he was about to kill an animal he would look into the animal’s eyes and his body just wouldn’t make any move to kill the animal. On this occasion the hunter had decided to not make any eye contact with creature, he needed to be able to kill it.

He had been tracking this deer for a while now. Everytime he got close something would scare the deer and it would run away. This had been going on like a dance between him and the deer. At first he quite enjoyed it but now he was getting frustrated and tired. As luck would have it the deer had finally stopped long enouugh for the hunter to get proper shot. He took a deep breath, aimed and let go his arrow. It flew straight at the unsuspecting deer. He quickly closed his eyes not wanting to see what happened next.


He knew why he didn’t kill them. He didn’t sympathise with them and he definitely wasn’t soft. He just didn’t think it necessary to kill them and he was quite fine with that.

“Sometimes it’s okay to just appreciate the beauty of the animal, dont you think mister? You don’t need it on your wall when you can come here and see it live.”
Those words blew through the breeze and carried the hunter as he walked home.

The End

11. Amala

Wild ducks are near the end. Few know the impact that their actions have on the delicately balanced worlds of others. We are all guilty of bringing worlds to an end even though we will never know or see them fall in front of our eyes. That is where I am different. My slowly decaying world has been poisoned by my polluted Kingdoms, yet little did I know that their toxins would poison the very stars in my sky, beautiful galaxies not so far away. There is no greater sadness than seeing the brightest stars in your sky slowly fade into the darkness, their lights flickering and dancing in the distance could be mistaken for a dances of joy yet in reality they are writhing in pain calling for a swift end to their torment. The torment your world has so unknowingly sent it, the gift of life placed in your hand corrupted by the unseen ills of your Kingdoms. I am Amala.

The Observer Daddy Corruption Alaura


My little star shines brightly once again! I know it is only possible because someone else out there lost a star of their own, but the gift they have given is irreplaceable, from death comes life and my star is alive once again! Her Kingdom restored, her mother’s riches shining brightly in her. A smile returns to my face once again. God, its been years since i have smiled. It feels great to bathe in the warmth of a beautiful star once again. She is mine to protect and her world rests on my shoulders. The wild ducks fly once again. Spacedust is no longer part of our galaxy and never will I allow it to corrupt, stain and destroy my Kingdom and my star.

12. Thief

As he regained consciousness, Caleb could hear the thump of footsteps fade away into the depths of the castle. As his eyes regained focus, he stared at his empty hand outstretched before him. His map – and his only way out – was gone.

Slowly, he rose to his feet. It was hard to make out his surroundings in this poorly lit hallway. On the carpet however, he could see the faint shimmer of blood on the carpet. His blood. This was no mere accident. The sharp pain in the back of his head agreed. Someone else was lost in this castle and someone else needed a map.

The rush of anger needed to wait. Every second that passes gives the thief another second to escape. He needed to decide on a plan of action. Up ahead in the corridor he could make out a stairway, faintly lit by a nearby torch. He was sure that the thief had gone in that direction. But his memory of the map did not include anything about the staircase up ahead.

He noticed a slight breeze coming from the corridor to his left grazing his arm. Far in the distance he could hear the unmistakable rattle of a door, or perhaps a window.


He could feel a breeze spilling from the lower levels. The staircase did not look the sturdy type. He carefully tested each step with the weight of one leg before using it. After a slow decent into the bowels of the castle, he reached what he assumed must’ve been the dungeon. There were chains bolted to the walls in some places and torn from the walls in others. There were several holding cells.

He spotted the source of the noise he had heard earlier. I was not a door to freedom but rather a cell door that repeatedly slammed against the prison bars. A rush of excitement rushed through his body as he spotted the source of fresh air – a tiny, barred window near the ceiling of one of the cells. He approached the cell, wanting to feel the slightest of sunrays piercing the darkness through the small window. He came to a halt in the centre of the cell. He looked around for something that might help him reach the window. There was nothing useful inside the cell. Perhaps somewhere else in the dungeon, he thought. He turned back to the cell door which was, to his surprise, shut.

He tugged at the bars of the door, but not only was it shut. It was locked. He looked up past the bars of the door and saw the faint glimmer of eyes and the tight clench of a fist around what looked like his map fading into the shadows of the dungeon. The thief had robbed him of his map and his freedom.

The End

13. Magician’s Kin

As we were standing there on the corner of a busy city block it seemed as if the square had lost all of its magic. What once was a concert of colour accompanied by the rattling of cartwheels on cobblestone has become monochrome and mundane. I held in my left hand the coin which my father so eagerly commanded to dance between his fingers as we’d prepared for a show and in my right, the far more delicate hand of Sue. The pleasant waft of freshly baked bread from the bakery up the street broke my train of thought and thawed my nose, reminding me of our current situation.

Sue: “Where did he go?” Her auburn hair makes her look like a little candle. It is a pleasant illusion on such a chilly winter morning. “Well, he went away for a while” It was hard for me to explain that he would not be re-appearing any time soon after this disappearing act. The last I saw of our father was the back of his head sitting in a police wagon. “We are opportunists” he would say, pulling his coin from behind my ear. “I give them a show that they marvel at, and you my dear assistants make a donation from their pockets.” It seems the people did not take too kindly to our way of accepting payment and the passing of new law did not allow for much tolerance. Our cornerstone was gone and we would have to make do on our own.

The winters came and went and we became more adept at surviving on our own. We devised new ways of distracting passers-by to take what we needed to survive. We became crafty and cunning. By the age of 18 I had become a spellbinding street magician and Sue had the slightest of hand.

On the autumn morning of Sue’s 16th birthday we passed the local pub on our way to the bakery. “Join the cause!” a man chanted. It was quickly echoed by”Get rewarded for doing your duty”. The table with the sign-up sheet was droning with young men and woman that were eager to quench their thirst for adventure. “Do you think we should sign up?” I could see Sue contemplating the thought. Even though we were tricksters by trade, Sue could never manage to hide her emotions. She was used to rejecting my left wing notions but it seems like this time she took some time to think about it. “I don’t see how joining the army can be any worse than continuing to con for spare coin.”


The day finally came. We were prepared and itched for freedom. The guard came patrolling around the corner. “We’re up” I thought to myself, acting disinterested as usual. As the guard passed our cell father threw his cup at the guard. We chose this particular guard because he had a very foul temper and would not let it slide. He walked closer. As he did, father grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him across the hall. I latched my clasped hands around his throat, eventually bringing him down to the ground. I looted the keys and unlocked our cells.

The feeling of freedom came rushing back into our veins, urging us to run. And we did. I tried to convince Sue to come with but she would not budge. We ran around the first corner, the second and the third. Our final stretch to freedom was a long service hallway to the outside observation post. I turned around to see if someone was following us. In that instant a figure appeared from behind the corner. That figure quickly replicated into two more. They had caught on to us.

I heard the boom of a rifle. Father plummeted to the ground with a loud thud. My heart sank and so did the rest of my body. Lying there on the floor I could not believe what had happened. I took the coin that he left me as a child and put it in his pocket just before the guards were standing over me.

I was dragged all the way back and locked in father’s old cell having to face Sue’s blank stare. She turned her back to me and went to bed.

The end.

14. Hypertext Story

You are awaken by a constant beeping next to your ear. You slowly open your eyes and above you, you see a sea of stars. Up here they seem much brighter than they ever were on earth. You turn your head to the source of the irritating beeping, a small orb like alarm clock next to your bed, pulsing a blue light with every beep. They are supposed to wake you up at the optimal time in your sleeping cycle, but somehow you also seem to wake at the worst time possible. You suddenly get the urge to smash the small round device to bits!

Smash the alarm clock
Turn the alarm off and get up


You burst into the storage compartment where the enemy has boarded the ship. Before you is a group of strange, vicious-looking aliens you have never seen before. As one alien jumps towards you, you reach for your pistol, and kill the alien just before it reaches you.

You and your squad destroy every alien on board, just as the ship hyperjumps to a safe solar system.

15. End of the Road

“Why the long face?
Have you been waiting long?” he asks me.
“I suppose. It hasn’t been a great day, but things can get only get better right?” I say.
“You could be surprised” he says.
“Are you going somewhere close?” he continues.
“I am headed to the 3rd district, so I still have to catch another bus at Prophet Station. I wonder if the military march is slowing the buses today” I say.

“Oh, my friends are coming from there now. I need them to give me my stuff. They will get here soon, so I am sure they can help you out. I will ask them to give you a lift” he says.

Moments later a vehicle appears. It stops in front of us.

Grungy people come out of the pickup truck and approach the guy next to me with a bag.

The driver of the car starts speaking in sign language.

They look at me and continue their conversation.
Eventually they turn and smile.
They ask me to come with them.

Why are they looking around?
Are they looking for something?

Get on the pick up
Wait for the bus


I swap seats with the next to me guy.
I grab one of their guns and shot the radio.

The guy I just switched places with gets shot and dies immediately.
The car tires bows and the car flips over.

I am the only survivor inside the car.

A bus drives past slowly.

Moments later when an ambulance eventually arrives, a report on the police scanner says that a man on a bus has just been arrested after a failed attempt to detonate at a military march.

Exam topics: mini-dissertation in human-computer interaction 2012

These are the topics students chose for their 2012 exam papers, which took the form of a research proposal. I can’t give out too much detail, but wanted to share this with the class.

If you’re interested in connecting with one of these students based on their proposal, contact me.

Continue reading

Opensim Practical Project 2012 – Screenshots

For a module in virtual environments, my students build their own virtual worlds with a theme and purpose of their own choosing. The idea was to combine various kinds of media (audio/video, scripts, links) into a coherent whole using OpenSim as a development environment. This is also their practical examination.

This year, I saw a lot of impressive models developed using third-party tools such as Blender, 3D Studio Max and Google SketchUp. I encouraged them to use in-world tools initially – to become familiar with using Second Life.  Next year, though, I will definitely include a third-party tool section.

Worlds, by (avatar names):

  1. Sonic the Hedgehog Simulation, by Sean Brand
  2. Athletics World, by Antz81
  3. Anchorhead Tatooine, by Bestnickname
  4. Naruto World, by Darnitalian
  5. League of Legends Simulation, by Darntwaiwanese
  6. Warhammer 40k Compound, by Gdswardt
  7. Island Paradise, by Henk
  8. Theme Park, by Sltw02011
  9. NASA base and Moon Simulation, by StaticBlur
  10. Angry Birds Simulation, by Zziworld
  11. Sports World, by Alwyns
  12. Futuristic NASA Colony, by Brometheu5
  13. The Wandering Isle (inspired by Mists of Pandaria), by Celynthria
  14. U2 Concert, by Go0Sie
  15. Paintball Arena, by JJBotha [pending]

Have a look at 2011’s group too. If you’re interested in contacting any of these students, let me know.


Have you seen Google Chrome’s video about children’s book author Dallas Clayton? I happened to catch it during X Factor commercials last week. (Don’t judge. I was curious.)

The ad describes Clayton’s goal to write and illustrate a story for his son about “dreaming big.” After shopping An Awesome Book to publishers with no success, however, he made the decision to post it on the web for free. As a result of some major grassroots success (and a lot of downloads), the book was eventually acquired and published by HarperCollins Children’s. See Google’s full ad below:

In the video, Clayton states, “To me, it was never about writing a physical book; it’s about sharing an idea with as many people as possible.” And this is an interesting capture of the world in which we now operate.

Though producing a physical book may not have been his primary goal, thanks…

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Advertising in books – not a recent phenomenon.

Mike Cane’s xBlog

We think ads in books is a New Thing.

Broken Toys, a novel by Anna Caroline Steele, was published in 1884.

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F in Exams by Richard Benson

Ah, exam papers. Puddles of inked theory committed permanently to paper. Paragraphs that, reconsidered, transform into whirlpools of negated swirls. Desperate arrows point to second-guessed answers – every effort made to satisfy my assessing eyes.

Some answers – especially the formulaic ones – can be a joy to evaluate. You get into a rhythm of ticks, crosses and dashes; the only sound in your office the swishing of papers and the scratching of your pen. You can sense the argument quickly, agree, and move on.

Then there are some answers that make you pause, reread … and burst out laughing. Ones that you just have to share with your colleagues – or the greater world. Richard Benson published a collection of these jewels in a book I just discovered. For instance:

F in Exams by Richard Benson

F in Exams by Richard Benson

The book is available via Amazon, both in paperback and for Kindle. The Kindle version costs US$10 (80 ZAR) and the sample I downloaded looks fine on Kindle for Android.

Check some more examples at F in Exams by Richard Benson.